Tags Reading


I've just finished "reading" my first audio book. The decision came after I noticed that on the bus back home from work I very rarely can concentrate on reading a paper book, because I'm either tired, being disturbed by people talking around me or both. Besides, now with the winter on our doorstep, the dusk arrives earlier each day, which makes reading without ruining the eyes hard.

Anyway, to give it a first shot, I browsed to LibriVox to grab myself a free audiobook. LibriVox is somewhat similar to Project Gutenberg, collecting books with an expired copyright (in the U.S.). However, since getting access to the text of books is considerably easier than recording them on audio, LibriVox has so far collected a little less than a thousand books, while Gutenberg holds tens of thousands.

I must say that the collection on LibriVox isn't large. Clearly, recording a book is a long and difficult task, so it isn't simple to find volunteers. Eventually, I picked up "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" for an easy start (I'll post a review of the book itself soon, so I won't dwell on its contents here).

The quality of recording

LibriVox is operated entirely by volunteers, and often a single book is being recorded by multiple people. In the book I read, the 12 chapters were all narrated by different people. Naturally, the quality varies.

I don't mean the digital quality here - LibriVox allows to download MP3s encoded in 64kbps and 128kbps - and I found the 64kbps perfectly acceptable. What I really want to talk about is the quality of the narrator. In "The Adventures", I had a bad start, as the first reader was quite bad. He had a strange accent, over-dramatized many episodes and generally was difficult to understand. Luckily, all the rest were quite good, and generally I can say it was all very easy to listen to. A couple of the readers were splendid - I couldn't expect a better quality from a purchased audiobook.

LibriVox's policy is not to allow ratings of chapter quality by users. I can understand their point of view in saying that bad ratings might discourage readers that aren't simple to find anyhow. Nevertheless, I think that allowing ratings would still be better. It would surely encourage readers to do a better job.

All in all I can't complain, however. As I said, the overall quality of the recordings was very good and the listening experience was enjoyable - I'm pretty sure I didn't lose track of the events because of recording quality even a single time.

Speed and concentration

The narrators read at a very comfortable speed - like the speed of two people at ease speaking with each other. The total duration of the recording is 10 hours for this book. I checked its length in an electronic text version - and it consists of about 100,000 words, which would take me 5.5 hours to read at my average rate of 300 wpm for books of this kind. So, on one hand, audiobooks are twice "slower".

However, there is a very significant factor I'm ignoring here. Reading a book at a sustained rate of 300 wpm isn't an easy task - because you need to stay very focused the whole time. This isn't easy for long stretches of time even in a quiet environment, not to mention a dark, noisy bus when you're tired after a day of work.

So I think that while I would still prefer reading with my eyes while sitting at ease on my couch at home, listening to audiobooks on the bus or train is a pretty good option even speed-wise, because their rate is constant, and it is much simpler to stay concentrated listening than reading in a noisy environment.

While on the topic of concentration, it is interesting to notice that although it is easier to keep focus while listening, when you lose it you can completely miss portions of the text. While reading a normal book, I often find that my thoughts have wondered and that I have only a vague clue of what the last page or so was about. However, not all the meaning is lost and after a quick skim I'm back on track. With an audiobook this is different. When my mind wondered for 20 seconds - I found that I completely missed that part of the recording, as if I didn't hear it at all - and I have to come back to listen to it fully if I deem it important.

Another interesting, and more important point to note is that listening to an audiobook doesn't detriment much my attention to the real world. I even drove while listening for a short time and found no problem concentrating on the road, and understanding the book at the same time. This is probably not surprising, considering that radio talk-shows are a favorite with long-haul drivers of buses and trucks.


To summarize, I had a very positive experience listening to this audiobook. I find that such type of reading fills a niche in times when I find it hard to concentrate but still prefer reading to sitting idly. The speed, while inferior to eye-reading under optimal conditions, is quite comparable on average. And on some occasions, like when taking a walk or driving - audiobooks are a pure win - because you just can't read in any other way.

What's very important, however - is the quality of the narration. It can make all the change in the world - a bad narrator can make the listening experience irritating and practically useless, so I suppose that buying audiobooks can be a good option as their quality is probably very good and they're not too expensive.